Mostly Other People Do the Killing — This Is Our Moosic (Hot Cup, 2008 )
It’s too easy to slap a “free jazz” label onto Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Granted, up front you notice Peter Evans‘ post-apocalyptic hyperbuzz trumpeting, expertly skimming the changes like a hummingbird dodging freeway traffic. And then there are the moments when the quartet goes into group improv, teaming up viciously like cavemen taking down a mastodon.
But the slogan on the Myspace page is “100 years of jazz in every byte,” and that gives you more insight into what they’re doing. That, and the cover of their latest album, This Is Our Moosic, which carbon-copies the pose on Ornette Coleman’s This Is Our Music, complete with the bassist glaring at the camera sardonically like he’s about to kick somebody’s ass, either the cameraman’s or yours, ya punk.
MOPDTK is appropriately fierce, and it’s not just Evans. Kevin Shea‘s drumming is intense without being heavy — a smiley-faced shredding. Moppa Elliott on bass lets fingers fly with pulses like deadly concussions, and John Irabagon on sax delivers a good free-jazz tumult on cue.
There’s a reverance for jazz history, though, that’s easy to spot. “Drainlick,” “Fagundus,” and “East Orwell” all start from a kind of Sinatra cool. They’ve been informed by ’60s radicalism, European free improv, and noise rock, but it’s still a swingin’ time for the first 30 to 120 seconds, before things start to fall apart. And the songs do coalesce back to composed heads — this stuff is done with charts, and with a sense of history. There’s even an academic tinge to the way Elliott’s composing draws from Coltrane, Danny Elfman, and Debussy, as noted in this All About Jazz review.
The influences do span 100 years of jazz. “Two Boot Jacks” opens with an old-timey swing that Jelly Roll Morton could have done. “The Bats in Belfry” exudes Spanish flair; it’s a rare slow track (well relatively, and only until the 100-mph solos kick in). “Biggertown” is a perky 1950s picket-fence scotch-and-soda tune (and then the parents leave, and a high-school party tears up the house). “My Delightful Muse” makes me think of Spike Jones, which could mean any number of things.
And then, the album closes with a suspiciously straight reading of Billy Joel’s “Allentown” — yes, the mildly schlocky 1982 radio hit, complete with vocal “effects” to represent dying coal mills: “shh! oom! aah!” It’s a Pennsylvania thing; Elliott (born Matthew Thomas Elliott) appears to be the hails from there. Every track on MOPDTK’s first album, Shamokin’!, was titled from a town in western Pennsylvania. The title of this newer album comes from Moosic, which is apparently another town in Pennsylvania. It all makes sense.